Born To Throw

The track and field Olympic Trials begin Thursday, and Gresham (Ore.) rising senior Haley Crouser is a contender in the javelin. AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Brian Davies

In March, the sheets of white paper on the walls of Haley Crouser's room carried a simple message in bold black ink: 181'.

That was the Gresham (Ore.) senior's goal for the javelin -- a mark nearly five feet beyond the national high school record.

On April 13, Crouser achieved that goal when her javelin touched down at 181 feet, 2 inches. In an instant, she had the record and had put herself in the conversation of Olympic contenders. Today, the sheets of white paper display a new number: 194'. That's the Olympic B standard, the minimum distance required to throw at the London Games.

Crouser will be part of a family effort at the U.S. Olympic team trials in Eugene, Ore., from June 21-July 1, with older brother Sam, 20, entered in the men's javelin and cousin Ryan, 19, in the men's shot put and discus. She will be familiar with her surroundings, having competed at Eugene's Hayward Field three times already this season. And in her corner there will be not only a crowd eager to see her succeed, but a family legacy that is unmatched in American throwing.

"If I'm going to compete against all these athletes, I have to try to mix it up a little bit," Crouser said. "I want to make history when I go."

History is what it would be, all right. No high school-aged athlete has competed for the U.S. at the Olympic Games since the sport of track and field was professionalized more than 30 years ago.

And truthfully, it's a long shot. Crouser would have to beat the American record holder, Kara Patterson, and everyone else, plus hit that 194-foot figure. She also could make it if she makes the top three and hits 200-1, which is the Olympic A standard.

To throw a personal best by 19 feet at the Olympic trials would take a huge effort. But the combination of emotion and skill that Crouser brings to the event could produce something special.

"It's an opportunity to make an Olympic team," Crouser's father, Dean Crouser, said. "It's a business trip. It's not a matter of being in awe of it. You want to do well."

Dean Crouser still holds University of Oregon records in the shot put and discus. If not for injuries, he might have made the Olympic team in 1988. Haley's uncle, Brian Crouser, is a former world record holder in the javelin who made the U.S. team in 1988 and 1992. And her other uncle, Mitch Crouser, was one spot away from making the 1984 team in the discus.

Over the past three years, the next generation of Crouser athletes has done nothing to diminish the family name. Sam broke the high school record for the javelin in 2010. Ryan broke the discus record (and the indoor shot put record) for Barlow (Gresham, Ore.) in 2011.

Haley has come along and built up the family franchise even further. She isn't just a thrower, for starters. She won Oregon Class 6A titles in the 100-meter hurdles and shot put and was fifth in the high jump this spring.

She also brings a dash of style to the sport that the rest of her family does not.

"I think it's a good thing that I'm not being compared to Sam or Ryan, because I don't just do the throwing events," said Haley, who is also an all-state volleyball player. "And I'm also not only into sports. I like to go shopping a lot. I like fashion and decorating."

She wears a specially made bow in her hair for important meets. Leading up to the trials, she will take special care to choose the right outfit for competition.

And yet, when it comes right down to it, Haley's will to win and compete is no different from that of her brother or cousin.

"Haley is a super-strong-willed girl who's tenacious and smart," said her mother, Molly. "I don't think of it as girl power. I just enjoy watching her doing what she's doing."

Dean has coached both of his kids at Gresham. He describes Sam as a "plow horse" for the countless hours of drills and lifting he does without complaint. Haley, he says, is more outspoken and has a lower threshold for monotonous workouts. She's more apt to draw a line in the sand when she's decided she's done. But she, too, is an intense worker.

"I don't want to get to a point like the Olympic trials and wish I could've done something (more)," she said. "I want to know when I'm on that runway and in those competitions that I've done everything I can."

Working toward the dream

Against a wall of wind and noise near the traffic on East Burnside in Gresham, Dean shouts to Haley in javelin-ese, a language spoken fluently by father and daughter.

"Stay bouncy!" he yells. "Long crossover with the quick left! And close it!"

Haley holds those words, walks to the far end of the runway and then turns, holding a spear in her right hand. She lifts the implement to eye level, bounds forward, straightens her arm, takes a hop and abruptly halts her momentum as her arm fires forward and her fingers let go.

The javelin stabs the mushy, wet grass near an orange cone marking the distance at 160 feet. Crouser will fire the remaining six javelins to within a few feet of the same distance. Each of the throws would win the Class 6A state championship. But these are measured attempts, aiming to give her the rhythm of the steps.

One of the javelins is owned by coach Gary Reddaway. It's the same one that Rachel Yurkovich of Newberg, Ore., used to break the national high school record in 2005 (176-5). Yurkovich was a star at Oregon, an NCAA champion and a contender to make this year's Olympic team. She is also something of a role model for Haley.

"Ever since I was little I sort of looked up to her because she had the national record," Haley said. "My dad would say during workouts that she is the one you've got to try to catch. I was like, 'OK, I'll do my best, but that's probably not going to happen.' "

After 30 minutes of throwing, Haley enters the weight room, where she moves from one station to another. She hops up and down with a weighted barbell across her shoulders. She stands on her hands. She does sets of crunches. She leaps onto a wooden box 40 inches off the ground. Every exercise is designed to address the strength, agility and flexibility of her entire body -- not just her throwing arm and shoulder.

"You have to be strong to throw the javelin, but also quick like a cat," Dean said.

Haley and the rest of her family made the 105-mile drive to Eugene for the Olympic trials in 2008. She and her brother and her cousins clamored up to the fence next to the track as throwers like Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa made their victory laps. They signed Haley's T-shirt.

This time, Haley will be on the other side of the fence, testing herself against America's best, with a trip to London hanging in the balance.

"I feel like the Olympics is the holy grail of track and field," she said. "It should be every track and field athlete's dream."

For Haley, the dream is very much alive.

"I'm not going, 'Yeah, I made it to the trials, and that's good enough,' " Haley said. "I want to try to make the Olympic team. I have a chance."